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People's Law Library offers legal information for non-lawyers

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Two law libraries created a website aimed at making the law easier to understand.

A partnership between the State Law Library and the University of Iowa Law Library has resulted in the creation of a new resource for Iowans. The People's Law Library offers information on topics ranging from housing eviction to divorce proceedings.

While the website is focused on consumer, family and landlord/tenant law, it's planning to expand coverage in the future, said Carissa Vogel, the director of the UI Law Library. Vogel said the website isn’t a replacement for legal advice, but it is an important first point of access to a complicated judicial system.

“There are lots of people that come to the judicial system not knowing that they need representation, not understanding necessarily the complexity of what they're dealing with, or having challenges finding representation,” she said. “There are a lot of people trying to get help that don't have representation.”

Vogel said interpreting the law is a challenge for non-lawyers, especially when not every Iowan involved in a legal case will be represented by a lawyer. Iowa has among the fewest lawyers per capita in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The cost can also have an impact. Depending on the kind of case a lawyer may charge anywhere from $100 to $400 dollars an hour.

A 2015 national survey of civil dockets found at least one party was self-represented in 76% of civil, non-family related cases, according to the National Centers for State Courts. In those cases, the self-represented party was usually the defendant. In 1992—25 years prior—a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found 95% of comparable cases involved attorneys on both sides.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa